Joined 03/25/2013

A Man Chooses. A Slave Obeys.

10 Posts

A few years ago, I stepped into the shoes of the Courier, and ventured into the Mojave Wasteland. I made friends, made even more enemies, and brought peace to the New Vegas strip. For me, this as continuing a long tradition of traversing the wastes. I grew up with Fallout, even going so far as to play that atrocious Xbox game 'Brotherhood of Steel' that came out years back. For me, the wastelands has long since been home.

My wife, on the other hand, is a recent convert. Not just to the wastelands, but to a lot of gaming in general. I Introduced her some months ago to Skyrim, and a few hundred hours of game-time later, I think it's safe to say it's been a hit. Eventually, though, Alduin had fallen, the civil war was over, Lord Harkon was slain, and Miraak was put in his place. Mods can only get you so far for adding to the game, and eventually, you just, well, run out of game to play.

Then the Steam Winter Sale rears it's head, and Fallout: New Vegas is a whopping $2.49. At that price, I figure I'm not really out anything if she doesn't like it, and, if nothing else, two and a half bucks is a hell of a deal for a nostalgia trip. So, I boot it up for her, put the controller in her hand, and sat back. As the opening cinematic rolled, I looked at Benny like an old friend. A butthole of an old friend, but an old friend nonetheless. I get to watch as she jumps when Benny shoots you, and laugh as Doc Mitchell examined her. I even took the time to install a mod that allows you to answer 'two bears high-fiving' to the last test, because, seriously, it's two bears high-fiving.

It's always an interesting thing to see, watching someone delve into unfamiliar territory. Here was a woman that laughed as she fought two and three dragons at a time suddenly run from anklebiting praying mantises. It's easy to forget sometimes that these kinds of games can go vastly different with the decisions of two different players. I lamented a bit when she decided that Primm was safest in the hands of the NCR, and elated when she welcomed the Legion in Nipton with a shower of dynamite instead of running off to 'spread the word of the glory of the Legion'. I was proud when she sent Jason Bright and his brotherhood to the skies, instead of simply getting rid of the ghoul problem. She even did one better than me, and negotiated a truce in Boulder city, instead of leaving a trail of bodies. With the exception of the Legion, she has not made an enemy of anyone yet, even going so far as to become friends with the Powder Gangers.

I've had to fight the urge to funnel her towards the same conclusions I made, as the beauty of this game is that it is her journey, and not mine. I may disagree with how she handles one situation or another, but, taking the path that she's on, I'm excited to see just how many people answer her call when the Battle of Hoover Dam comes calling. I regret nothing when it came to my time in the Mojave, but, I'll admit, I was pretty lonely come time to face the music. It'll be good to see what it's like when you actually have favors to call in.

Yesterday marks the season finale for the television aspect of Defiance, and with it, a chance to reflect on the beginnings of what has, for good or ill, proven to be an utterly unique gaming experience.

Over the past few months, we have seen characters jump from one screen to another, witnessing the redemption of a woman that wanting nothing more than to avenge the murder of her family,resorting to violence and disappointing the man she had come to call 'father'. We heard rumors of a plague early on, and did our part to find a cure and make a difference in the world beyond our playing area. It was obvious that there would have been a great deal missing from the story if I partook of one and not the other.

If you read my previous article on Defiance, I haven't changed much on my original stance on how the game plays. I've found myself playing less often, though that has less to with lack of content, as they have added new events regularly to keep things interesting, and more to do with the fact that Skyrim recently released their Legendary Edition. DLC is incoming, and promises a new playable race, a new weapon mechanic, and a bevy of new missions. It certainly seems enough to keep the fanbase busy and happy until season two airs.

Ultimately, I'm felt a bit wanting when it comes to their biggest promise. Defiance was touted as the next generation of cross-media entertainment. We were promised a dynamic experience that changed based on our actions. What we received was a game that fed us content based on a static television show. Now, I know full well that the logistical demands of a television show create a number of difficulties in providing the experience many gamers came to expect based on the promises made by Syfy's marketing campaign.

Don't get me wrong. I've put a few hundred hours into fighting hellbugs and the forces of Dark Matter along the remains of San Fransisco, and have loved everything but some connection issues early on. It's been worth every penny, and, fingers crossed, may just be part of the Steam Summer Sale happening any day now. Every MMO has some growing pains, and this one was no exception. I can say, with a reasonable level of certainty, that the inital stumbles are behind them, and the game has hit a pretty decent stride. Go ahead an pick this one up. You won't regret it.

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To be fair, the new television show Defiance seems like exactly my cup of tea. Dystopian America? Check. Aliens? Check. Created by the guy responsible for Farscape? Hells yeah. Upon watching the Pilot, I kind of feel like someone jumped into my brain and made a show pieced together from everything I grew up on.

I had the pleasure of taking part in the Beta for the game version of Defiance. I walked away from it not overwhelmed, but sufficiently impressed. On PC, it seems to simply be another offering in the somewhat over-saturated MMO market, offering aliens and assault rifles in place of ogres and swords. Where it seems to shine, on the other hand, is in the fact that is not PC exclusive. Console MMO gaming is, admittedly, a bit of an anemic genre, with (on PS3 at least) only a handful of offerings, such as DC Universe Online and FreeRealms, both F2P, and sadly it shows.

I am no stranger to the MMO. Like many of you, I had my phase of WoW addiction, and am no stranger to Guild Wars or even Everquest (For those of you just joining us in the genre, Everquest was the digital equivalent of cocaine back in the day. Then World of WarCrack came out, and it sadly was never the same.) So far, Defiance seems to be able to stand on it's own two legs as an MMO offering, and it gives some insight as to how a Borderlands MMO would feel. Like many others, there were some hiccups in the early days, but that is nothing new to the genre, and network errors seem to have worked themselves out.

I find myself a fan of both aspects of this unique concept. The show is one giant ball of my nerdy obsessions, and the game is a solid offering, though maybe not the very best out there. However, I find myself wondering how these two aspects will end up blending. Will it be Chocolate and Peanut Butter, with two great tastes that taste good together? Or are we looking at salsa and ice cream, with two great things that might just make you sick if you blend them?

It seems a smart idea to set the two aspects in different parts of the same world, given the fact that the live-action television show has to be recorded months in advance, and can't exactly turn on a dime if something goes unexpected in the game. This separation, though, is exactly what worries me. Defiance was touted as an all-encompassing experience. It's a game you can watch! It's a show you can play! Given the story we have so far, though, there is a bit of room to worry about how well these aspects will blend. Defiance, which has set up roots in what was once St. Louis, Missouri, stands as an independent city-state, free of government any higher than the town's mayor. It seems a bit like this may be the norm for much of the country, if not the world. The show seems to be mostly confined to the (quite literal) bubble cast around this city.

Early advertising made large promises, telling us that how we played the game will affect what we see on the show. From the get-go, this seems like the concept of the show is a choose-your-own adventure book, with the MMO acting as the options on the bottom of the page, to see where your options lead you. While it is still a bit too early to tell, I'm starting to get the idea that the 'interactivity' between them may be guest characters from the show popping up in the game, or a passing line of dialogue in the show that a handful of players will collective go "Hey! I got that reference!"

I will keep an open mind, but I am sufficiently worried that the biggest, coolest aspect of the show/game hybrid may very well go the way of the Virtual Boy, with a lot of money going to a half-baked concept. Regardless, both aspects seem to be sufficiently awesome if consumed separately. I feel like, even if the cross-media interactivity bombs, each individual aspect is string enough to stand on its own. Still, it would be fantastic to hear Julie Benz make a moving speech about the heroes of the latest battle of San Francisco, AssBlaster69 and DirtyDirtySanchez...

Just Saying....

After days of work, hours of frustration, and a rage that very nearly claimed a controller, I claimed the 'Scavenger Hunt' achievement in Bioshock Infinite. For those of you not in the know, the parameters of this particular achievement are as follows:

1) Beat the game on the hardest difficulty, which includes a hundred dollar charge per continue. no money, no more game. You have to reload at your last checkpoint.
2) Not spend any money at a Dollar Bill machine. While this may not seem like a big deal, health, ammo, and salts (Which is basically your mana) are at a serious premium in 1999 mode, and these machines are basically the only easy source, outside of hoping to scour from the environment or having some thrown to you. By choosing to complete the achievement, you are foregoing the only way to make this mode easier.

I watched the credits roll, and the "Achievement Earned" notification popped up on the screen. All that work, all the annoyances and frustration, all for that. Not even something that I can show off in-game somewhere, like achievements in Team Fortress 2. As I sit and watch the credits wrap up, I am struggling to justify the headache I just put myself through.

And then it hits me. To me, it's not about having something to show off, though that is a plus. I found myself challenged even on medium difficulty, and hard was a scary prospect. I decided to forego hard, and jump in head first, and just knock out 1999 mode. I had heard that outside of the paying for continues, there was not a whole lot of difference between the two modes, so I thought why the heck not. I felt like I needed to give myself a challenge, and it only made sense to REALLY challenge myself, and add the Scavenger Hunt achievement to my docket.

For a very long time, I've had a hard time shaking the feeling of failing at most everything I do. My self-esteem is something that has always been easy for me to undermine, and feeling like I've done something right is an experience that does not come often. Call me silly, or strange, or even stupid, but my achievement list, or trophies, or gamer score stands as a list of my accomplishments, no matter how big or small. They stand as a personal record of challenges I've risen to, and a road map of challenges to come. I look at the Platinum trophies I have for Assassins Creed 2 or Uncharted 3, and I see proof that I can follow through on something I set my mind to.

I have days where I feel like I don't do as well as I could at work, or that I'm not being the husband I should be, even if I'm doing everything right. I can't help it. Perhaps if my boss gave out arbitrary, useless, but awesome rewards, I may feel like a better employee. If my wife learned how to make the 'trophy unlocked' sound when I remember to take out the garbage,..

Simply put, are achievements worth the trouble? For me, yes, they are.

Once upon a time, games were simple. Bad guys did bad things. Princesses got kidnapped. Heroes saved the day.

This was perfectly fine. When movies were first being made, plots were rarely more complicated than Big Angry Monster + Frightened Villagers = Dead Monster. The concept was so novel that by merely being a motion picture, it blew people's minds. The same is true of video games, or pretty much any other medium. Once the novelty runs off, any medium has to either innovate fall to the wayside.

As pixels gave way to polygons, stories had to evolve with them. Stories had to become more complex, because 'Rescue the Princess' just didn't cut it anymore. We came to expect epic quests and ancient evils. Games became a way to escape. Stories became more important, but often still relied on tried and true tropes. We always knew that the damsel would be in distress, the valiant hero would save the day, and evil would be banished for a few thousand more years.

As graphical capabilities have edged closer and closer to lifelike, so have the stories. With our latest generation of game consoles, we are seeing a firm grounding in reality with many stories. Even stories that are firmly planted in fantasy strive for a 'human' feel. Games like Heavy Rain took away monsters and magic, and made the monsters decidedly human.

As I started this latest iteration of Tomb Raider, I will admit my hopes were not the highest. Having been disappointed by many games in the series before (Tomb Raider: Underworld, anyone?), I was a little hesitant. After all, Tomb Raider had never been known for it's stellar storytelling or rich back story. For the most part, there were two defining features of the series, and they both likely are the cause of Lady Croft's lower back problems. A series of glowing reviews convinced me to give it a shot, regardless.

I had been prompted to play this game after completing Bioshock: Infinite. I found myself in search of a similar experience, namely looking to strike an emotional chord with protecting a young woman. Having grown up with 'Save The Princess' games, I guess the urge to save the 'damsel in distress' has always been ingrained in me. Every trailer I had seen made a specific point of how this game chronicles the humble beginnings of Lara Croft, before the bravado and confidence we see in previous entries. In other words, we are looking at a person, and not a character.

It didn't take me long to realize that this was a girl that did not need protecting. I found Lara at one point bound, defenseless, and surrounded by angry men with guns. Most games would make this the moment where a boyfriend or father figure comes in, guns blazing, and saves the day. The men captured with her are swiftly dispatched, and it does not take long to realize that no help is coming. If this damsel remained in distress, simply dying would be a mercy.

I go on to see a young woman get stabbed, shot at, attacked by animals, and at one point, beaten by no less than four angry Russians. I found myself changing along with the girl on the screen. I felt helpless scrambling for daylight in a dark cave. I was terrified fending off wolves in the middle of a storm. The sorrow and regret was palpable when I had to take down a deer to keep from starving. After one tragedy too many, I was actually a bit surprised to find myself getting cocky when I overheard two guards saying "What's the problem? She's just one little girl!" "Yeah, well, this girl is kicking our asses!" Those angry Russians that beat on Lara? I didn't find myself worrying if she was okay. I knew she was. Instead, I found myself looking for them as the game went on, making sure they paid for their brutality.

As I watched the credits roll, I knew that I wasn't looking at a girl any more. This was a woman, strong and capable. This princess would never need a knight in shining armor to come rescue her. I fear for the dragon that thinks he can keep her locked up.

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Let me share with you all my favorite thing about this game. Since the original Deus Ex well over a decade ago, the main draw of the series has been the ability to choose your route through any given area. I pride myself on my (admittedly lackluster) stealth skills, and as such, made a point of taking on the terrorist mission early in the game (The one where you had to rescue the hostages and defuse the bomb) with a decidedly low-profile approach. I had some difficulty navigating the room just outside the hostages without being spotted, and eventually just paused and walked away in frustration. My wife asks me to run around the corner to pick her up a snack from our nearby 7-11, and I gladly took the opportunity to get some fresh air and get my wits back about me. I'm sure my controller appreciated not being thrown across the room.

I return a few moments later, chips and a slurpee in hand, only to see a mission complete gracing my screen. Confused, I track my wife down in the other room, and see if she knows anything about it.

"Babe? Any Idea why my game is telling me Mission Complete?"

"Oh? Yeah. I took care of it."

"How? I was stuck for half an hour."



"Yep. Grenades."

"And the Terrorist Leader?"

"Throat Punch."

This is the woman I married. And I'm strangely proud of her for this.

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In anticipation for Bioshock Infinite, I got it in my mind to sit down and play where it all started. I put in the game, survived the plane crash, and swam to the Lighthouse for the first time in years. I found myself humming along to 'Beyond the Sea' while waiting for the bathysphere, oblivious for just a moment to the horrors that awaited me. I still found myself with a sense of wide-eyed wonder as Rapture laid itself out in front of me, actually gasping as a whale swam between 'skyscrapers'. I took the trip, and even had a sense of hope as the neon lit above me. "All good things of this world flow into the city."

Of course, as soon as the lights went out, I remembered exactly why I love this game. The sinister voices, the slinking shadows. The innate sense of wrongness in this sunken city. I was taken to being awestruck at the shell of this new world, to seeing how the inside has rotted, all in the course of a few seconds, and it still gives me a chill. This, however, did not hold a candle to the first time I heard the voice of Rapture's lord and benefactor, Andrew Ryan. In one moment, we go from hearing how grandiose his dream started, to witnessing firsthand how the cancer of this sunken city has even affected the man a the top of it, I am the ultimate outsider. Atlas, the kindly voice on the other end of the radio, is my only friend in the entire world, and every other person in the entire city is looking to take my entrails, and make a lovely hat out of them.

The cap of the opening act of this game came in the form of meeting my first Big Daddy. In my first play through, I has only caught glimpses of these behemoths in the game, and had been terrified by the promo material. These beasts were huge, and terrifying, and utterly inhuman. They oozed violence, and were about as cute and cuddly as a rabid badger. Coming back, it was no easier. If anything, It was harder to approach these beasts, not because I have fought them before, but because at this point, I am totally unprepared. I have fought these monsters without problem when we were on equal footing. If given a chance to prepare, and take the fight on my own terms. Looking at my meager handgun, a few paltry shotgun shells, and plasmids that I has just started to be good with, I was firmly in David and Goliath territory. The true horror of this was that I has to start the fight. I was a non-entity to this hulking beast, and he would remain neutral as long as I would.

The truly incredible part of this set piece was the knowledge that between myself and the Big Daddy, I was the monster here. They were simple, mostly mindless beasts. Their entire purpose in life was to protect their Little Sisters, and cared for nothing outside of that. I go from wandering stranger to the idiot kid that pokes a bee's nest hoping for honey. I've not felt a greater, scarier, or more emotionally charged fight than my first Big Daddy. Not even the Dragons of Skyrim gave me that same rush. Instead of shouting "FUS-RO-DAH!" at my foe, the best I can muster is a "Please, God, Don't Kill Me!". Even knowing what was coming this latest time around, and having been through it all a few times before, this fight still caused me to pause, set down my controller, and reflect. Even now, it took a few moments to get my hands to stop shaking and my heart to find a regular beat. I had nightmares that night of drills and diving suits.

Rise, Rapture! Rise! I know I'll keep coming back.

I have hope that BioShock Infinite will start on as high of an emotional note. Even if it doesn't, the look and feel seems epic enough to keep my attention. Having a shoot-out with a mechanical, chain-gun wielding George Washington? Sign me up!

Note: This was written for the BioShock Infinite Contest held just prior to the release of BioShock Infinite. Even though, it was a blast to revisit Rapture, and I'm glad the folks here at Cheerful Ghost gave me an excuse to get back in the ol' bathysphere.

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